It starts with Darren. It always starts with Darren.

Grant and Shirley This looks interesting, you should watch it

I give him a heart emoji – impressed at his perseverance and earnest politeness. Darren tags his parents in on most posts, nicely suggesting they watch this or read that.

I want to respond in AllCaps – ‘Grant and Shirley – can’t you see how much this means to Darren!”

But that wouldn’t be helpful. I leave him to it and just hope his parents will see how much this means to him… in time.

It’s late and I am moderating the Make It Legal Facebook page after a long day at work. I started at 5am driving down to Hamilton for a presentation, then over to Tauranga for a series of meetings and now I am in an Air BNB feeling rude for not talking to my hosts, but with about 400 comments to check.

Being Campaign Manager for MIL (our pet name for Make It Legal) is a volunteer role that I struggle to fit in on top of my day job. My family have barely seen me for weeks as I spend every spare second with MIL.

The 50,000 strong MIL page gets about 5,000 comments a month. Among the comments posted by trolling New Conservatives, Destiny Churchers, Nopers (supporters of Say Nope to Dope) and the small army of our articulate amazing supporters – I am heartbroken by friendships ripped apart and families in turmoil.

Gabriel tags in Joel

That’s not uncommon. People often tag in friends and family – hoping the moderators at MIL will be able to help convince them to vote Yes.

Joel responds: Why are you so worried, thought you said you can’t vote

Gabriel: bro, I’m just sick of people having an opinion that isn’t logically thought out

I am with Gabriel on that. The most fervent wish of a MIL moderator is to come across a rational cohesive reason for voting to keep prohibition. We have yet to see any no-supporter come up with one. Their reasons for voting no are all based on misinformation, moralizing or – most common – pointing to the harms of prohibition and saying ‘see, look at the harm, we should vote no and stay with prohibition!”

I step in.        

Don’t get mad at Gabriel. It hurts to know your friends and family would vote to criminalise you.

Many people just don’t get this basic fact. The referendum vote is not just a matter of opinion. People are being convicted, which impacts their ability to get a job, to travel, to get a tenancy. It impacts them when they are in a child custody dispute. When they apply for a bank loan. Convictions haunt people for the rest of their lives.

Joel ignores me and comes back to Gabriel: bro you know that you can actually get put away for possession of cannabis

That’s a good point. We are heartily sick of being told by no voters that ‘no one goes to prison’. Tell that to the person who messaged me to say their dad died in prison after being put away for a few plants. Or the guy who asked me for help as he was caught with cannabis for personal use, but it wasn’t the first time and he thinks he is ‘going away’ and will miss seeing his kid born.
Imagine missing you kid being born because of an unjust law that punishes people for the harmless enjoyment of cannabis, while people who are violent on alcohol go free.

Gabriel links to the website of the Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister. Good on you! Solid evidence-based information there.
Unfortunately – we find no-supporters are very reluctant to look at credible evidence. Apparently their ‘opinion’ is more valuable than a 40-year longitudinal study.

I head off and shut down a Noper who is getting nasty. Another common theme. After long threads where we counter misinformation with credible research and logical debate – the Nopers always turn nasty. They start in on insults and abuse. It’s a game. Their objective is to put misinformation out in the public domain and then try to goad us into an argument so they can say our page is unfriendly.
I had one lady spew out nasty stereotypes and vile insults peppered with misinformation then complain that other people were ‘not respecting her opinion’.

Of course, anyone posting credible research onto the Say Nope To Dope page is immediately banned. We have quite a high bar for banning people as we value open debate. Also – we know all the evidence is on our side.

Gabriel and Joel are getting more emotional.

Gabriel: if I ever get jailed or fined for use of cannabis then I suppose you’ll happily understand that you’re part of the reason it happened

Bang on Gabriel. It’s a cold hard uncomfortable truth but that’s the nuts of the issue.

I jump in with a post about the referendum being a choice between two pieces of legislation – it’s an active choice between prohibition vs legal regulation.

Joel ignores me: Bro I don’t want this to change anything between us but I’ve already made my choice and it wont be changing.

A few other people have jumped into the conversation now. I hope they don’t disrupt the emotional exchange between two friends. Someone points out that it’s no ok to vote for your friends to be arrested, convicted and stigmatized: “How can they expect that they can have such hate for their mates and still be a good person?”

Joel is unimpressed

Since when were we voting for friends to be arrested or not and how should a small difference in opinion change a friendship?

That’s the crux. For no-voters this is ‘just a matter of opinion’. I jump back in.

Joel, your vote has serious implications for your friend. What your friend is trying to get across is that your vote means something. To people who enjoy cannabis this is very personal. It’s about whether their friends and family care enough to keep them safe from an unjust law. Think of it this way, during homosexual law reform people who were not homosexual voted for reform because they cared about friends and family who were being unjustly convicted and living in fear of conviction. It is similar for cannabis. This means a great deal to your friend … can you not empathise? This is personal. It means something more than just a difference of opinion.

A no-troll jumps in, trying to pull the discussion off track.
But then Joel comes back.

So if I vote yes then you’ll be happy?

Hallelujah. A friendship saved. Maybe.

I keep moderating.

Darren is back.

Grant and Shirley Have you seen this, it look really interesting

Bless him!


[note: this is a fictional story, any similarities to real people is an optical illusion]